Syria Civil War: Q&A With Expert on U.S. Intervention

Majid Rafizadeh is on the advisory board of Harvard International Review, president of the International American Council on Middle East and an Iranian-Syrian scholar. He has often spoken on international and national television news stations as well as other public forums.

I approached Majid to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. I asked him about the ongoing refugee crisis, as well as the U.S. role in the conflict. My conclusion? America must step up and do more.

Sarah Browne (SB): What does the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt mean to Syria and why is Asaad in celebration?

Majid Rafizadeh (MR): From Assad's perspective, he is fighting radical Islamic and fundamentalist groups associated with the Muslim brotherhood and Al-Qaeda. Assad's regime claims that it struggles to defeat these Islamist groups which want to take over the country and the region. In addition, Assad and his people repeatedly point out that political Islam and the Islamists can not govern a country efficiently. As a result, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood was viewed as strong evidence and proof for Assad's claims. In other words, from Assad's perspective, the fall of Morsi and his party buttressed his long-held opinion that political Islam is a failure. 

Furthermore, we should not forget that Assad's regime has been at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood since 1970, when Hafez Al-Assad, father of Bashar Al-Assad, came to power. The 1982 massacre in Hama which was committed by the Assad regime obliterated the Muslim Brotherhood operation in Syria. However, they came back since the uprising erupted. Secondly, the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt has been siding with Gulf states (including Saudi Arabia and Qatar) to support the rebels. Morsi harshly criticized the Alawite sect of Assad. The Muslim Brotherhood backs the rebels and anti-Assad groups. Therefore, the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi was also viewed as another victory for Assad's regime.

SB: Does it seem likely that Syrian terror groups could obtain chemical weapons and if so, how will that affect the rest of the world?

MR: At this point, it is difficult to argue that the rebels or other Islamist groups who are fighting Assad will have access to chemical weapon anytime soon. The regime has been moving around the chemical weapons and they have been obscuring their places. In addition, the rebels and Islamists groups do not possess the technological capabilities of creating chemical weapons at this point. However, if chemical weapons fall in the hands of anti-Assad groups, including the rebels, Free Syrian Army, and Al Qaeda-linked groups such as Jubhat Alnusra, we might see immediate international intervention to neutralize the chemical weapons, or the region will face a larger conflagration.

SB: What will become of Syrian refugees?

MR: The refugees situation is tragic and the scope and the servity of the crisis is unprecedented since the Rwandan genocide. Even António Guterres, the head of the United Nations refugee agency, who expressed growing alarm, told the Security Council that the pace at which the Syrians’ are fleeing their country is the worst since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The United Nations has estimated that there are approximaetly 2.5 million Syrian refugees registered and there could be as many as three million refugees by the end of the year. In addition, around one fourth of the population has been internally dispalced. More than five million of Syria’s 23 million citizens have been forced from their homes. Aid groups estimate that there are 1.6 million school-age children among the refugees from Syria’s civil war. Sixty percent of the camp’s population is under 17, and they are in need of basic education and food. One in three Syrians are in "desperate" need for basic needs such water, food, blanket and shetlter. I think as the war continues, the situtaion of the Syrian refugees will deteriorate and the United Nations will find it harder and harder to address the basic needs of millions of refugees. This can have tremendous negative consequences on the physical and psychological health of not only millions of children but the global health, as well as on the the education, of millions of children and security of the region.

SB: What can the U.S. do to better help the Syrian refugees? Are any governments intervening in Syria? If not, why and how should this be addressed?

MR: Despite ongoing efforts, the situation in Syria is at a diplomatic impasse due to a domestic, regional and international stalemate, unwavering support of the Assad regime by countries such as Russia and China, as well as due to the continued military, economic, intelligence and moral support Damascus receives from its strongest ally in the region, Iran. The West has also been unwilling to take serious actions. 

It is unlikely that intervention would lead quickly to the creation of a democratic government. If regime change came about because of U.S. intervention, Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Arab gulf states would feel a need to exert their influence more strongly as well, in order to protect their own geopolitical interests. The country could well become the battleground for an international proxy war in a way the world hasn't seen since Vietnam. In addition, fundamentalists and Al-Qaeda-backed groups would view U.S. intervention as a call to arms and would capitalize on the instability and insecurity to advance their fight against the West.

None of this is to say things will be easy for Syrians going forward, nor is it to suggest that the United States and other countries have no role. Countries concerned about the bloodshed should join together to address suffering. Humanitarian corridors need to be created by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to address the urgent medical and basic needs of Syrians, both those in the country and those who have taken refuge elsewhere. The international community should also do everything in its power to encourage Moscow and Beijing to withdraw their support for Assad.

You can find more information about Majid Rafizadeh and his work online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/majid-rafizadeh/ or on the IAC website www.iaccouncil.org, and http://english.alarabiya.net/authors/Majid-Rafizadeh.html